Running: is running really bad for your back?

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We know our poor work from home posture is bad for our backs, but is our running habit? An osteopath explains whether running is really bad for your back.

Approximately 1 in 6 people in England experience back pain, a figure that will only rise as we continue to feel the effects of our poor work from home posture. Alongside the obvious causes of back ache, like slouching, there is also a common misconception that running is bad for your back. But actually, running is generally a good thing for your back, so long as you do it correctly and don’t overexert yourself.

According to Healthline, a certain amount of discomfort is expected as you start to push your limits more during your runs, particularly during the recovery period – as is the way with just about any form of exercise. Any longer-term issues with back pain as a runner are more likely to do with either your form or a different, underlying issue. 

We asked Charlotte Mernier, a registered Osteopath at My Osteo London, for her insights into what can cause back pain after running, how to tackle it, and what you can do to prevent it. Her advice will help answer common questions, although if you are concerned about your back pain, be sure to see your GP about it.

Can running hurt your back?

Though many people believe that running is bad for their backs, Charlotte says that the reality is actually the opposite. She explains that “running regularly has a positive impact on the spine, because it strengthens the intervertebral discs”.

Those who experience back pain during or after a run are usually those who aren’t doing everything quite right. For those who “aren’t trained properly, push their limits too soon, don’t hydrate, and don’t warm up or stretch”, going for long runs can have unexpected consequences. 

Charlotte says that it is the lower back which usually bears the brunt. At her clinic, she tends to find that this issue is a result of a person’s lifestyle. “Those patients are usually sedentary people who spend a lot of time behind the computer, sitting in a chair”. This can lead to tightness in the glutes and psoas muscles, which can be exacerbated by running. 

Woman experiencing lower back pain
When running, Charlotte says that it is the lower back that is most impacted.

What should you do if you experience back pain after running?

If you experience back pain or discomfort after you’ve been for a run, then Charlotte advises that you mobilise the spine. The best way to do this is through stretching exercises, such as seated spinal rotations and knee-to-chest stretches.

Charlotte also recommends “taking a hot bath with Epsom salts or drops of Arnica essential oils”. You can even massage the area directly with Arnica oil, which is “very good for muscle recovery”. If home remedies don’t work though, be sure to see your GP.

How can you prevent back pain when running?

First and foremost, “runners need to educate themselves about training”, Charlotte says. In order to prevent back pain and other injuries when running, it is important to prioritise progression. “If you don’t practice sports regularly and then suddenly go for a 10km run, that’s how you’re likely to injure yourself”.

So Charlotte recommends establishing a monthly plan, making progress slowly, and “adjusting the timing and intensity of your sessions”. Remember, “progression is the key”.

It is also important for people to remember that “warming up, hydration and core strengthening exercises” are crucial when training for a high-intensity form of exercise like running. This will help you to perform at your best and recover properly

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Images: Getty

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